It's all over the news, there has been a bizarre incident in a Times Square hotel where a couple of twins fell from an upstairs window and are now in comas. But they are no ordinary twins, they used to be conjoined until they were separated contrary to their will, and were conducting a campaign of murder against those who sought to split them up. That looks to be over, and the cops are waiting at the hospital for Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) to awaken and be interviewed, for they cannot get any sense out of his brother Belial since he is a feral blob of flesh who cannot form sentences. But as night falls and the cop on the door is distracted, Duane rises and grabs Belial, then sets him on the lawman – they are making their escape!
And they have help! This was of course the sequel to director Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, that tiny budget wonder that made waves in the cult community around the world. In the meantime he had helmed Brain Damage, the not dissimilar tale of a boy and his brain parasite, but he managed to secure a two picture deal to make Frankenhooker and this follow-up released in the early nineties, the obvious fate of any half successful horror movie to this day, that because it was a hit, there will naturally be a continuation of that tale to cash in on what would appear to be a ready made audience all willing to shell out for more instalments. Maybe that was more in the eighties model than the nineties.
Nevertheless, here we were with more money for Henenlotter to play with though this was not a blockbuster by any means, and that meant Gabriel Bartalos was allowed, nay, demanded, to make a whole series of freaks for this when Duane and Belial are whisked away from the hospital by a friendly helper. She was Granny Ruth, an ex-doctor specialising in “unique individuals” or freaks as the bad guys term them here, bringing up echoes of Tod Browning's cult favourite of the thirties Freaks which was consciously invoked here. She has her own community of these malformed folks in her mansion house, living in harmony, or at least until these new arrivals put the cat amongst the pigeons with their psychological unbalance.
Needless to say, the community didn't look remotely realistic, they looked like what they were, actors (including Matt Malloy and David Emge from the original Dawn of the Dead) sporting outrageous, rubbery masks. But that spirit of exaggeration to make its point, that outsiders are people too, stretched to Henenlotter’s love of exploitation cinema, with every freak here basically standing in for the movies he was obsessed with and took perfectly seriously, as he had no time for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 sensibility that made fun of the low budget and low achievement. To Henenlotter, who had made at least one himself, the fact someone brought them into the world was reason enough to treat them with a little respect, he being well aware how difficult filmmaking was.
Filmmaking at his end of the spectrum, anyway, where you don't get to do everything you want but can spin straw into gold if you apply yourself to what you have. Duane and Belial was pursued by representatives of this snobby mindset in the characters of the gutter press who four years after they disappear, stage a publicity drive to uncover the location of the twins. You can see where this was going, that's right, more murders only even further we're intended to think the victims deserve it for their ill-treatment of the disadvantaged, which was all very well in a fictional context but did not fly in the real world. That said, there was little remotely real about the way this played out, with wackier humour and that sleazy atmosphere not quite cancelled out by the colourful, brightly lit presentation. Annie Ross, famed jazz singer, played Granny Ruth, another example of her dedication to the more unusual side of cinema, and Jason Evers, stalwart of vintage horror and sci-fi, was there too, but the film belonged to the latex monstrosity Belial, who even had a sex scene (!). Music by Joe Renzetti.
[Second Sight has released the Basket Case Trilogy on Blu-ray for the UK, uncut and with a whole load of extras including commentary, featurettes, trailers and galleries. Even Easter eggs!]
American director of trashy horror comedies. Made his debut in 1982 with the cult splatter favourite Basket Case, which he followed in 1988 with the similarly themed, equally gruesome drug addiction-analogy Brain Damage. Frankenhooker was a taste-free updating of Frankenstein, while Basket Cases 2 and 3 followed in the early 90s. After a long gap overseeing the preservation and distribution of vintage grindhouse movies, he returned to directing with Bad Biology in 2008.